Elephant seal beaches on lower South Coast

  • 06 July 2017 | Ann Kunz | Category: Species

A young male southern elephant seal (Mirounga leonina) made his way onto a beach close to Port Shepstone on the lower South Coast on the afternoon of Tuesday 27 June 2017, as a crowd of beachgoers gathered in disbelief.

Jello the elephant seal came ashore on the KwaZulu-Natal lower South Coast. (Image: uShaka Sea World)

It is uncommon for elephant seals to rest on South African shores, so rare that only 10 elephant seals have been recorded as beaching along the KwaZulu-Natal coastline in the past 40 years. These seals inhabit islands 2 000km away, in the sub-Antarctic.

As soon as the uShaka Sea World animal health team was alerted to the latest seal’s arrival, they made their way down to Margate to assess it. Unlike the previous southern elephant seal (Selso) who came ashore on the lower South Coast a couple of years ago, this two-year-old male appeared to be in excellent health and probably weighed around 150kg. 

A decision was taken by the animal health team, in conjunction with the KZN Stranding Network, to leave him to rest on the beach and to provide him with protection from potential threats while also protecting the public from possible injury.

Although southern elephant seals are peaceful by nature, if approached by an untrained individual they could potentially inflict serious injury while trying to defend themselves.

Over the next six days Jello (as he has been affectionately named) spent time in the water and on various lower South Coast beaches under the vigilant eyes of his protectors.

It is clear that the seal has crept into the hearts of the lower South Coast community. Members of the SPCA, SAPS Search & Rescue, Southbroom Conservancy, Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife honorary officers, Ezemvelo Wildlife staff, KZN Sharks Board, Wolf Security and various individuals set up a 24-hour “seal watch”.

uShaka Sea World staff are monitoring the health and wellbeing of young Jello as he begins what may be the start of his annual moult. It could take anything from 11 days to an entire month for him to finish moulting. During this time he will spend long hours resting on the beach, and returning to the water to either cool off or enjoy a fishy snack. If he is not moulting he could be simply enjoying some much-needed rest before his long journey south to the Antarctic.

Although Jello is a rogue seal far from his natural foraging and resting grounds, we trust he will behave in a relatively predictable fashion, and that locals and visitors will enjoy hosting this special visitor.

Vagrant or rogue seals are often seen resting on KwaZulu-Natal beaches between May and August each year. If you come across a seal or other stranded marine mammal, do not approach the animal on your own. Contact uShaka Sea World on +27 (0)31 328 8222 (24/7).

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